The Washington Post
North Korea fires long-range rocket on eve of Japan-south Korea summit
seoul — North Korea fired a long-range rocket, probably an intercontinental ballistic missile, on Thursday morning, hours before the South Korean and Japanese leaders were due to hold a significant summit and as the American and South Korean militaries continue major military exercises.
The South Korean and Japanese national security councils both convened emergency meetings after the launch, which took place at 7:15 a.m. local time. The missile flew for about 620 miles over a period of 70 minutes, reaching an altitude exceeding 3,700 miles, according to Japan’s Defense Ministry. The missile appeared to have fallen into waters outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, the ministry said.
Attending the emergency meeting in Seoul, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol called for “further reinforcement” of trilateral security cooperation between South Korea, Japan and the United States. “North Korea will pay a dear price for its reckless provocations,” he was quoted as saying before flying to Tokyo for the summit.
It is the latest in a string of missile launches this month, which included a missile being fired from a submarine, to protest the 11-day military drills that began in South Korea on Monday.
Kim Jong Un’s regime warned of an “unprecedented” response to the biggest military exercises in five years, which it calls a “declaration of war” by the United States and South Korea.
The ongoing U.s.-south Korea exercises come after a record year of weapons activity by North Korea. In 2022, the nuclear-armed state fired more than 70 missiles, including some with the potential to reach the mainland United States.
While most of those missiles fell into its own waters, North Korea last month threatened a longerrange launch into the Pacific.
“The frequency of using the Pacific Ocean as our shooting range depends on the nature of the U.S. military’s actions,” said Kim Yo
Jong, the powerful sister of the North Korean leader.
To match growing nuclear threats from the Kim regime, Seoul and Washington have stepped up the combined training. The “Freedom Shield” drills bring together a large number of troops to train for a potential attack from North Korea.
The allies are simulating amphibious assaults on North Korean beach defenses this week. The latest round of drills in South Korea also involve powerful U.S. strategic assets, such as a nuclearpowered aircraft carrier.
The exercises highlight the disparities between the two sides’ forces. The North’s ground force, whose goose-stepping soldiers are often paraded with fanfare, substantially outsizes that of the South, but its Soviet-era military equipment pales in comparison with the technologically superior weapons systems of its opponents.
The recent deployment of U.S. strategic assets, from nuclear submarines to bombers, appears to have especially aggravated Pyongyang, with a senior Foreign Ministry official threatening “an ultimate retribution” ahead of the drills.
“Kim Jong Un’s biggest fears are embodied by the U.S. strategic assets, which have the destructive power to obliterate his regime at once,” said Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean nuclear negotiator with the North.
Such a show of force with advanced weaponry, however, is also exploited by Pyongyang as an excuse for the regime’s military buildup, said David Maxwell, vice president of the Center for Asia Pacific Strategy.
“Kim needs to create the threat from the South and the U.S. to justify the sacrifices and suffering of the Korean people in the North as he prioritizes the development of nuclear weapons and missiles,” said Maxwell, who served in South Korea during his 30 years in the U.S. Army.
Yoon, who took office last year, has vowed to work closely with the Biden administration to bolster the allies extended deterrence against growing nuclear threats.